Corona beer’s 30-year-old Christmas ad takes on new relevance in social distancing age
For many of us, this time of year means Christmas lights, family gatherings and a winter wonderland. For one beer brand, it’s all about palm trees, solitude and a Mexican beach — a fitting message in an age of social distancing.
While brands like Heineken and Miller Lite directly addressed the pandemic in their holiday ads this year, Corona is saying, why mess with success? This marks the 30th anniversary of the brand’s classic “O Tannenpalm” spot, one of the simplest yet most enduring commercials ever. The ad — consisting of a single shot of a beachfront cabana and a palm tree aglow in faerie lights as a disembodied voice softly whistles the Christmas tune “O Tannenbaum” — was rolled out again by parent Constellation Brands on Black Friday and will run through the holiday season.
Like mall Santas, jam cake and that Mariah Carey song, the Corona ad has become a beloved tradition — running unaltered every year since its debut in 1990. This year, it takes on deeper meaning amid quarantines, working from home and aborted holiday gatherings.
“Every year, it helps reground people in the holiday spirit — which is one thing that doesn’t have to change in 2020,” explains Ann Legan, VP of marketing for Corona. “In times of uncertainty, people gravitate towards brands they know and trust.”
Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, agreed that the ad has particular resonance right now. “It is a quiet scene — it’s wistful and hopeful all at the same time,” he said. “It suggests that the holidays can be festive even if it doesn’t include big gatherings.”
That quietness is also one of the reasons the ad has had legs, Calkins suggested. “It breaks through the holiday clutter,” he said. Consumers’ continued fondness for the spot is a testament to the “power and consistency” of the Corona brand, he added.
The commercial has become so iconic that an all-new holiday ad from Corona sibling brand Corona Hard Seltzer pays homage to it — same palm tree in lights, same whistling, different beverage. The spot, called “Glass,” was created by Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago. “With Corona Hard Seltzer celebrating its first holiday season, we wanted to include it in a refreshing take that offers a nod to our holiday classic,” Legan says.
Contrary to early speculation that the brand might be hurt because of negative associations with the coronavirus, Corona’s sales have surged this year. The consultancy Brand Finance named it the No. 1 beer brand in the world, with a value of $8.1 billion, topping the likes of Budweiser and Heineken.
The backstory of the Corona spot is almost as engaging as the ad itself. It was created by Mike Rogers of Minneapolis agency Campbell Mithun and shot for a reported $50,000. Despite the dreamy scene in the ad, the reality is that the crew was up to its necks in alligators in the middle of a tidal marsh on the Yucatan peninsula, as Rogers once told it. “I think it connects with viewers because it touches their hearts,” he said.
The brand is celebrating its 30-year milestone in a big way.
It delivered a little slice of paradise to the people of Corona del Mar, California, outfitting a flatbed truck with a replica of the cabana from the ad and palm trees adorned with twinkling lights. A team of brand ambassadors delivered fully decorated palm trees to the stoops of area residents. Legan said all safety precautions were followed by team members, including protective masks and social distancing. (Why Corona del Mar? As the brand put it, any place bearing the name Corona in the year of the coronavirus could probably use a little extra holiday cheer.)
The company gave consumers the opportunity to join in the celebration via its “30 Days of Giving” sweepstakes, through which it gave away Corona-branded items like comfy onesies, Christmas sweaters and ornaments. It partnered with the websites PopSugar and Thrillist on a gift guide and virtual holiday greetings from celebrities like Snoop Dogg, who earlier this year was featured Corona’s “La Vida Más Fina” campaign from MullenLowe L.A. The 30th anniversary promotion also included a video via social media and a GIF.
The brand is also giving back. Corona donated $30,000 to the nonprofit #HashtagLunchbag, which distributes bag lunches with inspiring, handwritten messages. The company said the move “reinforces the brand’s commitment to support the communities where we live and work.”
Meanwhile, “O Tannenpalm” lives on — perhaps for many holiday seasons to come.
In a promotional video marking an earlier anniversary of “O Tannenpalm,” Constellation Brands CMO Jim Sabia related that the company had challenged its agency partners over the years to come up with a new holiday ad — but to no avail. “We couldn’t even come close,” he says. “This is such a beautiful, iconic spot for us that I think we’re going to run it for the next 25 years.”